Understanding of the evolution of complex life, and of the roles that changing terrestrial and extraterrestrial environments played in life's history, is dependent upon synthetic knowledge of the fossil record. Paleontologists have been describing fossils for more that two centuries. However, much of this information is dispersed in monographs and journal articles published throughout the world. Over the past several years, this literature was surveyed, and a data base on times of origination and extinction of fossil genera was compiled. The data base, which now holds approximately 32,000 genera, covers all taxonomic groups of marine animals, incorporates the most recent taxonomic assignments, and uses a detailed global time framework that can resolve originations and extinctions to intervals averaging three million years in duration. These data can be used to compile patterns of global biodiversity, measure rates of taxic evolution, and test hypotheses concerning adaptive radiations, mass extinctions, etc. Thus far, considerable effort was devoted to using the data to test the hypothesis of periodicity of mass extinction. Rates of extinction measured from the data base have also been used to calibrate models of evolutionary radiations in marine environments. It was observed that new groups, or clades of animals (i.e., orders and classes) tend to reach appreciable diversity first in nearshore environments and then to radiate in more offshore environments; during decline, these clades may disappear from the nearshore while persisting in offshore, deep water habitats. These observations have led to suggestions that there is something special about stressful or perturbed environments that promotes the evolution of novel kinds of animals that can rapidly replace their predecessors. The numerical model that is being investigated to study this phenomenon treats environments along onshore-offshore gradients as if they were discrete habitats. Other aspects of this investigation are presented.